Saturday, 7 September 2013

Bill Walker MSP resigns

And not before time.

Bill Walker, who was the MSP for Dunfermline, was convicted sixteen days ago on 23 counts of domestic violence over nearly three decades. That it has taken him so long to finally tender his resignation is not altogether surprising.

Like many bullies, Walker has consistently presented as arrogant with a disregard and blatant disrespect for the concerns of others. He is not stepping down as "the decent thing"; rather the bully himself has now apparently been bullied into taking the only logical course of action available to him. Defiant and deluded until the end, Walker predictable failed to take responsibility for his actions and blamed others for his having to stand aside. Turning on the media, he claimed that the "onslaught has made it impossible to properly represent my constituents and their interests". He's made the right decision - for altogether the wrong reasons.

Walker's short parliamentary "career", if it could be called that, has been characterised by intolerance - his most notable contribution to the Scottish political conversation being his outspoken stance against marriage equality and indeed LGBT rights more generally. Without apparent irony, he considered himself qualified to be the upholder of social morality and what he termed "family values".  His then party, the SNP, failed to act decisively to challenge his homophobia. Fortunately they moved swiftly when confronted with his history of domestic violence.

Walker's contribution to Scottish politics has been so negative that today's decision has been the most constructive action he's taken in two years.

Walker has cut a distinctly isolated figure in parliament of late, abandoned by his former colleagues in the SNP. This served only to strengthen his resolve to resist the inevitable. Willie Rennie's motion calling on Walker to vacate his seat immediately was supported by the vast majority of MSPs from all parties and, despite this show of solidarity from parliamentarians, Walker showed no sign of being willing to resign...until tonight.

Parliament has shown a zero tolerance approach towards domestic violence, and that is very welcome. That Bill Walker has finally, following pressure from parliament, the media and constituents. stepped down is also positive. That it has taken so long in coming, that he was not appropriately disciplined for his homophobic outbursts and that he was able to enter parliament in spite of his history are concerning, and there remain many unanswered questions from which we need to learn.

On the plus side, Walker's homophobia did give me the opportunity to speculate about his motivations, and in doing so have a little fun at his expense. So perhaps every cloud has a silver lining.

So, farewell Bill Walker...and good riddance. It pains me to say that. There are very few parliamentarians of any party who I genuinely hope to see the back of.

Interestingly, it is not only myself and the wider public but many of Walker's old friends in the SNP who share this view. George Adam MSP took to twitter to express his relief: "about time. Bill Walker STILL remains deluded, blaming all but himself.  3 decades of abuse and its the press to blame. #fool". There were several others too. Not only does this underline how distanced Walker became from his former colleagues, but also his poor relationships with them, which seem to predate public knowledge of his violent past.

Walker's resignation is, of course, not merely a victory for the media as he suggests. Neither is it primarily a victory for parliament, or indeed Willie Rennie who has been energetic in his calls for Walker to step down. It is a victory for both justice and common-sense.

Despite his dogged defiance, Walker eventually succumbed to pressure. However, while the eventual outcome is the right one, there should be processes put in place to ensure that an MSP so convicted can never attempt to cling onto office in the way Walker did. There is a very real case for revisiting the rules, and I trust the Scottish Parliament has the courage to do so.

In the meantime, we now have the Dunfermline by-election to look forward to. I'm excited already...


cynicalHighlander said...

As you say common sense has prevailed and lets hope the media leaves it that.

If Willie wants to gain any creditability then he should stand for the consistency to give him any creditability as a leader rather than remaining as a list member on 5.9% of the vote. Not that there is any division between the value of constituency or regional MSPs but to be a leader one has to have a solid base to lead from with an identifiable constituency electorate IMO.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Scottish Parliament has the power to put the processes in place that you want Andrew. As far as I can tell, it would require an amendment to the Scotland Act which is reserved to Westminster under the present constitutional settlement.

If so, then the only two ways to do what you (and many others) want is for the Scottish government to negotiate with Westminster to get them to make the necessary changes or for the electorate to take the decision out of Westminster's hands by voting YES in 2014.

Alex Salmond has reportedly written to Nick Clegg to open negotiations with Westminster so the ball is in Nick's court about which it is to be.

Anonymous said...

A good piece, Andrew.

As your anonymous contributor suggests, I think that the matter can only be decided by Westminster. I understand that Westminster MPs can, regardless of their crime, remain in place as long as they serve less than 1 year in prison, which is the same situation as here.

Alex has indeed written to the Deputy Prime Minister asking that legislation be brought forward to give Holyrood the power to dismiss MPs in these situations. However, one has to imagine that, in legislating to change the law in Scotland, they would be obliged to consider the same thing for Westminster, and they may be reluctant to do this.

But I’d very much like to see it done. I can’t imagine how a man (or woman) can, in prison, continue to work for the constituency that he is paid to represent, and the notion that he would continue to receive even a portion of his salary while incarcerated is an affront.

(I’d add that I would like to see the same sort of thing happen in the Lords. I object to people leaving prison in the morning and walking back into a £300+ a day tax free job that very aternoon. It sends such a bad example to what parliamentarians are pleased to call “ordinary people”.)

Let us hope, therefore, that Nick Clegg will act upon this matter with urgency. It would, I think be helpful if Willie Rennie urged him to do so.

Willie has called for an SNP internal inquiry to find out how Walker was accepted as a candidate. I would agree that this seems sensible, although I imagine that the result of it will be that, on the part of the form where is asks questions about background and the possibilities of anything in the potential candidate’s history that could embarrass the party, that Walker simply lied and said no.

Perhaps it shows that selection committees should be more thorough in their researches, although to be fair, it is difficult to imagine people asking wives, offspring or girlfriends if they have ever been beaten.

However, it could be that there were rumours or suspicions. ..things, which might have been further investigated. In the interests of something which should cross party boundaries, maybe Willie could advise Alex on the process used by the Liberals.
As for the matter of homophobia, I wasn’t aware that he had been particularly homophobic. I thought it was just a matter of him being anti equality in marriage. Again this is something which crosses party boundaries, and I’m not sure that discipline is right in these cases.

Much though I disagree with people who think that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and I have openly criticised on my blog Gordon Wilson for his outspoken attacks on equal marriage, I’m not sure that party leaders should be able to gag their MSPs/MPs/MEPs on this (or anything else).

Maybe I’m missing something though, because I’d read very little about the man until his disgrace.

As you suggest, the by-election should be interesting and exciting for the SNP, Liberal and Labour. One of my readers (John Brownlie) suggested that it would be an idea for Labour for Independence to put up a candidate. I’d like to see Allan Grogan stand.